That night, as the boys lay dreaming, they sensed that someone kept walking in and out of the house, and they could also make out the sounds of pouring water. It was Li Lan, going again and again to draw water from the well. She carefully cleaned Song Fanping's corpse and changed him into clean clothes. The children did not know how the small, frail Li Lan managed to change the clothes on Song Fanping's massive body, or whether she got any sleep. The next day, after Li Lan left, Baldy Li and Song Gang discovered that Song Fanping was as neat and tidy as a groom. Even the sheets beneath him had been changed, though his scrubbed face was a mass of green and purple blotches.
Song Fanping's corpse lay on the near side of the bed. The pillow on the far side had a few strands of Li Lan's hair, and a few more were dangling from Song Fanping's neck. Li Lan must have spent the night cradled on Song Fanping's chest. This was to be the last night she spent with Song Fanping. The bloodied clothes and sheets were soaking in the wooden tub under the bed, and floating on top of the water were a few flies that had wedged themselves in the crevices of his clothing.
All night Li Lan had wept. As she wiped down Song Fanping's body, she shuddered over his bruises and wounds. Several times she almost burst out into terrible wails, but each time she managed to swallow her sobs and would bravely rouse herself, though the effort almost made her faint. Her lips bled from biting down on them. No one could imagine how she survived that night, how she reined herself in and managed not to go insane. Afterward, she lay down on the bed and placed her head on Song Fanping's chest, falling into a state that was not so much sleep as a long, pitch-black unconsciousness. Only when the sun's rays pierced the room did she rouse herself once again from the terrible pit of her pain.
Li Lan, her eyes bloodshot and puffy, left the house to go to the coffin shop, bringing with her all the money that she had in the house. She wanted to buy her husband the best coffin, but she didn't have enough money. She was only able to afford an unvarnished one made of thin wood planks, and even then only the shortest of the four. She returned shortly before noon, followed by four men carrying the thin-plank coffin on their backs. They set the coffin down next to Baldy Li and Song Gang's bed. The boys looked with fear and horror at the coffin as the four sweat-drenched men wiped themselves with their towels and fanned themselves with their straw hats. Looking about, they asked loudly, "Where is the corpse? Where is it?"
Silently, Li Lan opened the door to the inside room. The men's leader walked into the room and spotted Song Fanping on the bed. He waved for his men to follow him in. They stood by the bed quietly discussing matters for a while, then abruptly grabbed Song Fanping by the arms and legs. The leader bellowed, "Lift him up!" and the four men lifted Song Fanping, their faces as red as pig's liver. They carried Song Fanping through the door and then attempted to place him in the coffin. When Song's torso was positioned in the coffin, his feet still dangled out. The men panted noisily, trying to catch their breath. They asked Li Lan, "How much did Song Fanping weigh when he was alive?"
Li Lan was leaning against the doorframe as she replied in a low voice that her husband probably weighed 180 pounds or so. All the men had looks of "Aha!" The man in charge explained, "No wonder he was so heavy. When people die, they weigh twice as much. That was probably three hundred and sixty pounds right there. No wonder I almost sprained my back!"
The men from the coffin shop then began an animated discussion about how to wedge Song Fanping's feet into the coffin. The corpse was too long, and the coffin too short. The four of them struggled for more than an hour. Song Fanping's head was already squashed and crooked, but still they could not manage to squeeze his two feet in. They discussed placing him on his side, in a foetal position, saying that then they could manage to fit all of him in.
But Li Lan balked at this. She felt that the dead should be buried face up, since they would want to look up at the living. "You can't lay him on his side. If he's on his side, he won't be able to see us."
The man in charge retorted, "With the coffin lid and all the dirt, he wouldn't be able to see even if he were lying face up. Hugging his knees, he'd be in the same position as he was when he was born, and furthermore it would make coming back for the next go-round easier."
Li Lan shook her head. She still wanted to say something, but the four men had already bent over and, with much grunting and huffing, rolled Song Fanping onto his side. Then they discovered that the coffin was too narrow, and Song Fanping's body was too wide and too thick. Plus his legs were too long, so even in a foetal position they couldn't fit all of him in. The men shook their heads. Lifting their shirts to wipe the sweat that had flowed from their faces down onto their chests, they complained, "What kind of fucking coffin is this? A foot-washing basin is more like it."
Li Lan lowered her head in shame. The men rested for a while, then continued discussing their options. The man in charge said to Li Lan, "There's only one way: we have to smash his knees to fold his calves over. Then he'll fit."
Translated by Eileen Cheng-yin Chow and Carlos Rojas